Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

The Old Churchyard

Lone field of graves! our churchyard old and hoar!
Trench'd deep, and sown by Death with mortal grain;
Decayed, and dead it lies-not evermore!
All, all shall live, shall rise to life again!
With ling'ring step, in solemn, musing mood,
I pass within the time-worn lichen'd walls;
A softened awe steals o'er me as I brood
On scenes and forms that memory still recalls.
My dreamy eyes, dim with unconscious tears,
Gaze sadly on a small enclosèd space:
A wild-rose brier its tender greenery rears,
And sheds its fragrant blossoms o'er the place.
Within that space my sainted mother sleeps;
Her grandchild's grandchild slumbers at her feet;
One grave the mortal relics safely keeps
Of five fair infants-sinless, pure, and sweet,
I stand beside a new-made grave: the grass
Hath not yet greened the dark-brown burial sod-
A wife and mother lies below! Alas!
With bleeding feet life's thorny path she trode.
Here lies a father. Ah! the toiling hand,
The warm paternal heart, and thoughtful brain,
Toil, throb, and think no more. The silent land
Gives back no echo to the world again.
A granite tablet here records the worth,
The virtues of a man, esteemed, beloved;
Want, death, and sickness ever called him forth,
And vice before him ever stood reproved.
And she, a help-meet true for many years,
Beside him lies. Ah! when she was removed,
Deep was our loss, and mourned with many tears-
A mother she in Israel well approved.
The scorched and mangled victims of the mine,
Full many sleep beneath these lowly mounds:
And crushed, dismembered forms, slain on the line,
Find space within their dark and narrow bounds.
Now, on a broad and lettered stone I sit,
The gloaming shadows have begun to fall,
Old forms and faces round me seem to flit-
They come, they come at brooding fancy's call.
Ah! well I know these patriarchal forms-
Our village fathers in the days of yore,
Through humble life, its battles and its storms,
Their part they bravely, uncomplaining, bore.
And dames, in coif and 'kerchief, wrinkled, gray,
Who each the burden, heat, and toils of life,
In poverty along life's flinty way
Still meekly bore, as daughter, mother, wife.
Sad spirit eyes! why gaze ye on me so,
The sole survivor of my young compeers?
Six joyous girls we deemed not soon to know,
'Our happy valley' one long vale of tears.
The dews of evening fall, my dream is o'er;
The airy phantoms fly, I gaze around,
Nought meets the eye save graves and tombstones hoar,
And silence reigns, unbroken and profound.
These frail mementoes of mediæval times,
That still have place upon the crumbling wall,
The open graves, the mournful, funeral chimes,
The griefs, the tears of centuries past recall.
Lone field of graves, farewell! old churchyard hoar!
I go, but must and will return again!
I come, but may not go as heretofore;
Till time and death shall die, with thee remain.
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